Melbourne implements Managed Motorway Network to manage traffic and improve incident response

The City of Melbourne in Australia has recently started operating a managed motorway network at a number of points that experience significant traffic congestion. Consisting of an array of smart technologies such as overhead gantries, road sensors, traffic monitoring cameras and freeway-to-freeway ramp signals, the city’s managed motorway network is expected to improve traffic flow, reduce incident response times and provide an enhance traffic management system.

Touted as “the world’s most sophisticated managed motorway network” in a press release by the Victorian state government,  Melbourne’s managed motorway network has already contributed to a number of successes: freeway-to-freeway ramp signals operating on the exit ramp from Bolte Bridge heading to Burnley Tunnel has boosted traffic flow by allowing an additional 500 cars per hour to transit through during peak times; traffic queue lengths have also been reduced up to 2 kilometres, and nose-to-tail crashes have fallen by nearly 80%.

According to VicRoads, which oversees the road transport system in the state of Victoria, “50% of (all trips in Victoria’s roads) will happen on freeways”, some of which are managed motorways. At present, managed motorway features are present on the recently upgraded Tullamarine Freeway, Monash Freeway and M80 Ring Road; additional features, such as freeway to freeway ramp signals, variable speed signs and entry ramp signals, will be added to various sections of these 3 locations between June to August 2018.

“We’re switching on Australia’s largest managed motorway system to give drivers safer, faster and less stressful journeys,” said Australia’s Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donellan. “Freeways are just seven percent of our road network but they carry almost half of all traffic – around 13 million trips each day – that’s why we’re investing in smart technology that will allow us to move more people, per lane, per hour.” As evidenced by smoother traffic flow and reduced congestion, active management of Melbourne’s motorways has provided improved connectivity between routes and intersections, as well as optimised their productivity.

The term “managed motorways” has no universal definition. In the context of Victoria, managed motorways, or “smart motorways”, typically possess a mix of the following technologies: variable message signs that inform road users of traffic conditions, lane use management systems, coordinated ramp metering, traffic surveillance equipment such as CCTV cameras and variable speed limits; other unique features of Melbourne’s managed motorways include freeway-to-freeway ramp signals, which hold and then release traffic onto the city’s freeways at consistent intervals.

Improvements in traffic flow and connectivity as a result of the operation of Melbourne’s managed motorway network represents a critical success in VicRoads’s decision to switch from constantly building new road infrastructure to accommodate peak demand. As early as 2002, VicRoads had already considered the possibility of a state-wide managed motorway network and sought to implement it via a unique framework now known as the “Melbourne Approach”. According to VicRoads’s Managed Motorways Framework report published in March 2017, the “Melbourne Approach” differs from conventional frameworks in that it focuses equally on 12 different elements that harmonise to produce the overall motorway productivity outcome.  With an emphasis on safety, efficiency and connectivity, the managed motorway network promises road users “safer, smoother and more reliable journeys on Melbourne’s busiest freeways”.

As Australia’s fastest-growing city, Melbourne has been grappling with a myriad of issues stemming from a burgeoning population. Transport infrastructure has been struggling to accommodate the rapid increase in commuter demand recently, with the city’s network of train stations and trains operating above capacity. While the managed motorway network represents a significant step forward in improving road connectivity and traffic flow, the system does not directly address the rise in the number of cars on Melbourne’s roads.

"At this stage we're still seeing car growth in similar numbers," said VicRoads chief executive officer John Merritt. "All of that growth has been taken up on our freeway system where we've been both expanding system and technology to make it work better and absorb this huge growth Melbourne's going through."

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